THE people of the United States have reelected Barack Obama to a second term as America’s chief executive. Over the next four years, President Obama will maintain the ability to appoint justices to the Supreme Court and to the lower federal courts and to the heads of the federal agencies. Obama has pledged during his campaign that he remains committed to immigration reform, and to policies that favor the growing immigrant base that just helped him win the election.
When Obama was first elected president, he promised to bring comprehensive immigration reform before Congress. In his first term, his efforts at reform were thwarted by a Congress that was unable or unwilling to make bipartisan compromises in order to promote effective change. Unable to pass laws without the support of Congress, President Obama used his executive authority to improve the system in place and open avenues for relief under the existing legal framework.
Starting last year, through his Secretary of Homeland Security, President Obama encouraged agents and attorneys with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to exercise prosecutorial discretion in deciding which cases to pursue for removal or deportation from the United States. The President advised ICE to focus resources on high-priority cases involving dangerous criminals, and to make available the option to cancel removal in the case of a person with strong family ties, no criminal record, and other favorable equities. This policy has resulted in the termination of numerous deportation and removal cases, preventing the break-up of families that were facing seemingly imminent separation.
Earlier this year, President Obama proposed regulatory changes that would permit a person who entered the United States without authorization to file for a “provisional waiver” before departing the United States to apply for readmission abroad. This waiver would significantly shorten the time that families are separated while family-based applications are pending. The provisional waiver is ready to be implemented, and the momentum from this election inspires confidence that final regulations will be forthcoming soon.
Recently, President Obama exercised his authority to put in place an application process known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in order to provide some relief through administrative channels for young persons who have lived in the United States for several years and attended schools in the United States. Many believed that if Mitt Romney had been elected, he would terminate the program, or decline to renew individual applications when they expire after two years. With Obama back safely in the White House, we can proceed with DACA applications with the confidence that the program will remain in place, and that DACA grants will be extended in two years’ time. We remain confident, as President Obama pledged during this campaign, that once the Dream Act is finally passed, the work authorizations issued under DACA will lead to permanent residency and citizenship.
The Obama administration may also provide support for changes necessary to exercise the full benefit of the Child Status Protection Act for aged-out beneficiaries of immigrant petitions. As benefits are expanded and more immigrants are eligible to apply for admission to the United States, the visa quota system will need to be expanded. The Obama administration would likely favor a push for increased visa availability to accommodate the influx in applicants who are now eligible to apply.
The reelection, and changing dynamics in Congress, also provides good cause for optimism that comprehensive immigration reform is possible. This election demonstrates that the Republican Party must update its message to address substantial numbers of Latino and Asian voters. In order to adapt to the changing American demographic, Republicans will need to soften their stance on immigration policy. The parties should be encouraged to work together to promote business immigration policies that will maintain American competiveness in a global economy. As President Obama said during the second debate, “there are folks all around the world who still see America as the land of promise. And they provide us energy and they provide us innovation and they start companies like Intel and Google. And we want to encourage that.”
Barack Obama’s second and final term in office is his opportunity to preserve a progressive, immigrant-friendly legacy, and to expand on the base support of immigrant communities for the future of the Democratic Party. President Obama does not need to tow a centrist line anymore, and can forcefully advocate for the positive immigration reform he has promoted throughout his presidency and his campaigns. We are optimistic that the next four years will open new pathways to immigration relief and reform for the betterment of this great melting pot.
President Obama has already put several programs in place that provide relief that was not previously available, and there is good cause to believe additional relief is on the way. Any person seeking status in the United States is encouraged to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to determine what options might already be available.